Mark Twain and Heidelberg

Because I traveled to and through Germany with an iPad, I was able, when the opportunity for an unplanned trip to Heidelberg (hosted by wonderful new friends we had made at the conference at which I spoke), I was able to download and read portions of Mark Twain's, A Tramp Abroad, in which he describes his 1878 visit to the venerable old city.

Twain marveled at the romantic ruins of the huge eight-hundred-year-old Gothic and Baroque Castle (above), which the lovely Robin and I visited the next day! He described the castle memorably (as he described nearly everything):
A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.
Twain also mentioned "the great Heidelberg Tun...a wine-cask as big as a cottage" which, although empty, "holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles" or more than 58,000 gallons. I had no idea we would actually see this giant barrel, but we did. It is still on display in the castle:

Here is what he wrote about this marvel:
Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.
He also described the River Nekar, by which he arrived in Heidelberg, and (of course) we saw that, too.

It added another layer of enjoyment to an already memorable visit, to be able to consciously walk in the footsteps of one of my favorite authors during our time in Heidelberg.

Six Surprises

My recent travels in Europe with the lovely Robin contained many wonderful sights and experiences. It was almost problem-free, and fairly affordable. But there were a few surprises. Here are the top six:

1. Most Germans speak really good English. Better than some Americans, in fact. German children are required to take six years of English in the normal course of study, so it's fairly easy for someone who speaks only English to function.

2. Germans refer to the first five books of the Bible not as "Genesis, Exodus," etc., but as "First Moses," "Second Moses," and so on.

3. Wiener Schnitzel has no wiener in it. The "wiener" refers to its Viennese origin (and it's not the only kind of schnitzel). It is a breaded pork (or veal) dish:

4. Germans don't wear white tennis shoes...or white socks. At least, white tennis shoes (like the kind I wore) are uncommon....and one of our new friends told me that white socks (e.g., tube socks) went out of fashion long ago.

5. Europeans actually walk. And ride bikes. I can't say this was really a surprise, but it was striking. Whereas Americans will drive their car if they have to go just a few blocks away, there is a lot more walking and bike-riding (and public transportation like cable cars, even buses that go from city-to-city) in the towns we visited. This also kinda explains why we didn't see many overweight people (the bikes below are parked by commuters at Heidelberg's central train station).

6. Churches--both Roman Catholic and Protestant--are state-sponsored in Germany. That is, the state collects taxes and distributes funds to officially-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches. Evangelical churches, however, do not receive any of these funds, which seems to be a very, very good thing.

Driving in Germany and France

The lovely Robin and I drove hundreds of miles during our recent ten-day sojourn in Germany and France. While didn't even scratch the surface of those two beautiful countries (our trip focused on southwest Germany and a tiny portion of Alsace-Lorraine in France), we did learn a few things about driving in Europe.

We rented a car, and while our experience at the Dollar rental counter in the Frankfurt airport was unpleasant (the clerk was extremely surly and impolite), our car (a brand new Chevrolet Nubira station wagon, a European-market model) was very pleasant to drive. Except for the radio faceplate, which kept popping off.

I thoroughly enjoyed driving on the highways, which are identified by letters and numbers (I think the letter indicates the size of a roadway, A5 for example being what we would call in the US "I-5"). As we expected, on the "autobahn," their divided highway, where there is no posted speed limit, drivers go as fast as they choose. This was not nearly as scary as you might think, as people generally drove more sanely than many American motorists (and you Massachusetts people know who I'm talking about).

We saw a lot of the countryside, which was tremendously enjoyable. Even when we got lost (which we did twice, but never hopelessly so), it was a pleasure because of the beauty of the area.

Perhaps the most important difference from driving in the US was the way the highway exits and interchanges are marked. In the US, signs almost always indicate a direction as well as a destination (such as, "I-75 North, Dayton"). Not so where we traveled. The signs indicated only the destinations, such as "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden/Strasbourg." Most of the time, this was all we needed. But a couple times, we took a wrong turn because while we knew, for example, we wanted to go to Frankfurt, we weren't so sure offhand if Baden Baden was north or south of where we were.

We also surprised ourselves with our ability to navigate just fine, using signs in French and German. We quickly deduced that ausfahrt meant "exit" and einfahrt meant "entrance" (or, off-ramp and on-ramp). It took a little longer (I had to ask) to learn that einbahnstraße meant one-way street (I shoulda been able to figure it out, as of course straße is "street"). But overall, the signage was surprisingly familiar.

One more surprise: I knew, of course, that the European Union has brought changes, but was nonetheless surprised that crossing the Rhine from Germany into France was like crossing the Ohio River from Ohio to Kentucky. No stop, no checkpoint, no problem.

Six Best Pix

I am no photographer, but every once in a while I stumble into a decent photo. On our recent trip in Germany and France, I took about 250 photos, all on my iPhone. Here are the six prettiest, in my opinion.

Of all the amazingly beautiful sights I saw during ten days in Europe, the most beautiful by far was my traveling companion, the lovely Robin. She never fails to amaze me. Here she is at Burg Eltz, which we visited on our second day in Germany.

This is a shot I took as we descending the "S" walk from the height opposite Heidelburg to the bridge spanning the Nekar River into the old city of Heidelberg.

The Holy Spirit Church in Heidelberg's old town.

Part of Heidelberg Castle, at dusk. Some of the lighting in this photo is artificial.

The marketplatz in Strasbourg, France.

A twisting staircase in the Sainte Marie Madeleine Church of St.-Marie-Aux-Mines, France. The only lighting was early evening light coming through the window.

The Waldheim, Frankfurt

After checking into the Frankfurt Airport Holiday Inn Express, we asked the desk clerk to recommend a restaurant nearby. He said we could walk across the street and just a few minutes to a nice German-Italian restaurant. We never made it.

Just before the German-Italian restaurant, we saw the Waldheim, which promised "German homecooking!"

I am so glad we chose this place. I had a mincemeat strudel dish, and Robin enjoyed a pork-cabbage-and potato plate, both of which were absolutely amazing! (can you tell I had some of her meal, too?)

I'm so glad we stopped in here. I don't know what the German-Italian place would have been like, but the Waldheim was wonderful.

Creperie La Bolee de Cider, Petite France, Strasbourg

Our last dining experiences in France were just okay.

Our last evening, we stopped in at Creperie La Bolee de Cider, practically across the street from Bistro Margot, where we'd eaten the night before, for some crepes. You know, cause we were in France.

I actually had a galette (called the Alsacienne Galette)...munster cheese, onions, caraway, cream. Eh. Robin ordered a crepe, but it sure looked like a galette she got, too.

After the galettes, we ordered a crepe with ice cream and chocolate, and that was pretty good. Coulda used more ice cream, but oh well.

I think I would have rather eaten whatever Bistro Margot was offering that night, but that's okay, it was France and we had crepes. Or galettes. Whatever.

Bistro Margot, Petite France, Strasbourg

I didn't record all our dining experiences in Germany and France. For example, I wish I had gotten pictures of me and the lovely Robin with the wonderful family (Daniel, Damaris, Nele, and Josiah) who showed us around and shared dinner with us in Heidelberg. I guess I was so enamored of the warm fellowship, I forgot to take pictures. But we had a lovely meal there.

Probably my favorite of all our meals in Europe, though, was the supper we had at this spot, Bistro Margot, in Petite France, in Strasbourg:

This restaurant had a large bar and just a handful of tables (though there may have been more upstairs). The waiter spoke very little English, and the menu was available only in French. But we managed to understand and communicate enough to have a wonderful meal.

I had meli-melo de choucroute, spaetzle au fumes du terroir, a spaetzle (noodle) dish, with cabbage and pork mixed in; it was incredible!

Robin enjoyed her steak hache pur boeuf, neuter maitre d'hôtel, frites et legumes--which she said was excellent, too.

And the dessert we shared, a creme caramel, oo la la! Actually, I ate most of both desserts (the other was an apple pie, basically, the tarte du jour maison. But the creme caramel was, as I said, oo with a lot of la thrown in.

Koch's Andechser, Mannheim

Just a few blocks from our Mannheim hotel on our recent visit to Germany, we found the Andechser restaurant, which had been recommended to us before we even left the states.

We were greeted by a hostess in Bavarian dress, and shown to our table right away. It was tough to choose from among rotisseries of chicken and pork knee, Nürnberger Bratwurst, and more.

But this, we'd been told, was the place to order beer. So I did. But, since neither the lovely Robin nor I are beer drinkers by any stretch of the imagination, I ordered "Radler," which is a kind of sissy beer....half beer and half Sprite. Robin had just a sip, didn't like it, and let me drink the rest.

I had a beautiful grilled half-chicken, and Robin had pork, red cabbage, and a potato dumpling, all of which she enjoyed. And we shared a side of fried potatoes.

Le Bistro and Hohe Schule, Herborn

Our first real dining experiences on our recent sojourn in Germany were very good.

We were hosted our first evening by our friends the Jung family at Le Bistro, Schloßstraße 6, in Herborn--just a step from our hotel. I had wild boar for the first time; tasted like pork, oddly enough. The food and company was outstanding. I wish I had taken pictures!

The next evening, after a full day driving to and from Burg Eltz, the lovely Robin accompanied me to the Hohe Schule (high school) restaurant.

The atmosphere was lovely, very tranquil, but the service was slow by American standards (probably just right by the standards of people who aren't always in a rush).

I had wiener schnitzel, and boy was it good. Robin had a filet, with grapes and potatoes and beans, also very good.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Some of the signs the lovely Robin and I saw on our recent journeys through Germany and France qualified for the category, "I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means."

Traveling with an iPad

Ten days ago, I left for a European speaking engagement (and a few days of touring) with my wife...and an iPad. Both were excellent traveling companions.

This was the first long trip I have taken with the iPad, so I thought I'd blog briefly about how it enhanced the experience.

First, as I've written on my Desperate Pastor blog, I used the iPad for my speaking scripts.
It provided a smooth and helpful aid to my speaking ministry (read more at

I also used it every morning to check email and Facebook, and read my usual newspapers and blogs (I have the non-3G version of the iPad, so I connected to the Internet only where wireless service was available, which it was in each of our hotels and at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport. Even if I had the 3G iPad, however, I would not have used 3G in Europe, as the extra charges would have been expensive).

I was able to take with me on the trip more than a dozen books, including a Bible and two prayer/devotional aids, in one small, compact, and very lightweight package (a huge advantage of the iPad: it weighs no more with 100 books loaded onto it than with 1!). I was able to finish the book I had been reading at home and begin another immediately (in fact, without the iPad, I might have opted to leave the in-progress book at home, knowing that I would finish it the second or third day, making it just dead weight for the rest of the trip; with the iPad, that wasn't an issue). I was also able, when our plans changed and it turned out we would get to make a short trip to Heidelberg, to download a free copy of Mark Twain's "A Tramp Abroad," which contains a nice chapter on his long-ago visit there.

The iPad Zinio application also
delivered the latest issue of Cincinnati magazine to me while I was in France, providing some entertaining reading on the return trip.

When Internet access was available, it was easy to check the weather forecast for our area--most helpful when our plans for the coming days included walking and other outdoor activity.

Another game-changer for me was the ability to map our day trips and destinations. Each evening, I would download turn-by-turn directions for the next day's travels in the iPad's native map application. These maps and directions were kept in the application's memory even without internet; though we couldn't download new info while on the road, the saved info got us where we wanted to go (although a couple times they were outdated, resulting in some exciting detours). And once we lost the route and directions entirely (I think from holding the finger down on the page for too long), but were still able to use the map.

On the long transatlantic flights, it was wonderful to be able to choose between books, magazines, and games to help pass the time. I was even able to do a little writing in both Pages and Blogpress!

And, when we tired of BBC newscasts on the TV (or German-dubbed episodes of King of Queens), the iPad worked niftily (I just made up that word) as a video player, using YouTube or Netflix.

Oh, and once, while getting instructions from a friend, I used the Penultimate application on the iPad to write down notes--with the tip of my finger. Didn't even have to ask around for a pen and paper!

The iPad's ample battery life proved itself on the trip, too. It only once drew down to less than 20% charge remaining--and that was due to a sitcom bloopers marathon we enjoyed our last night in France.

In my eyes, the iPad is a traveler's boon companion, and one that fits nicely in an airplane seat pocket. Just make sure not to leave it there when you de-plane.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad.

Last Morning in France, Last Dinner in Deutschland

Awakened this morning by the sounds of construction in our Novotel Hotel in Strasbourg, the lovely Robin and I packed the car and walked back into Petite France for a little nourishment before driving the 2-3 hours to our Frankfurt airport hotel.

We found a table on the corner outside the Europa Cafe, where I had an expresso (hey, don't blame me, that's how they spell it here!) and tried my best to feel sophisticated and philosophical.

Didn't work.

But we enjoyed ourselves, did a lot of people watching, and then got on the road, making it to our Holiday Inn Express near the Frankfurt airport well before the dinner hour.

We checked in, check email, etc., and then crossed the street and strolled down a wooded lane for an exquisite (and affordable) dinner (I had strudel) at the Waldheim, which promises "German homecooking!"

I'll blog later about the meal itself, but it was really, really good, and a fitting finale to the day...and to our European culinary experiences.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


After a leisurely morning reading the election results from the U.S., the lovely Robin and I headed out for a drive through the Alsatian countryside.

We saw more countryside than we expected. The directions on my iPad, downloaded the night before, took us on a route off A35, but that road was blocked. So we tried to find our way around it and ended up in some very nice country--where a single rider on horseback, a woman who spoke no English, nonetheless managed to give us directions through the town of Duppigheim and back onto A35, which (contrary to the e-map) we never had to leave to begin with!

On the way there, we passed Chateau Haut-Koenigsburg (High King’s Castle), first built in the 12th Century on a strategic hill in the Vosges mountains just west of Sélestat with a spectacular view of the Alsace valley, a view that reaches all the way to the Rhine River which now separates France from Germany. Castle Haut Koenigsbourg was formerly a possession of Germany under the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire. The original castle was attacked and burned in 1462, rebuilt and abandoned again after the Thirty Years War. It remained empty and overgrown by the forest for a few hundred years, but is now a popular tourist attraction.

After driving through Chatenois, Val-de-Ville, Liepvre, and passing by St.-Croix-Aux-Mines and Saint Blaise, we arrived in the town of Sainte-Marie-Aux-Mines, the one locale in which we know with confidence our ancestor Jakob Hochstetler once lived.

It was much larger than I had expected, with block upon block of shops and restaurants, and at least four churches (I'll blog about these on the Desperate Pastor blog)...though at least two of them seemed to have long been shuttered.

The Catholic church of Sainte Madeline, however, is clearly active (I slipped inside and, though it was dark inside, took some nice photos which I will share on the Desperate Pastor blog). It was built in 1747, so our ancestor would not have known this structure (though possibly some of the people who built it). Like the cathedral in Strasbourg, however, this church and its leaders would have represented noxious things to Jakob and his family.

This building, however (above) would have certainly been known to our ancestor, built as it was in 1596. Today it is the hotel and restaurant Wistub or Winstub (both spellings appear on the building's walls).

Through the center of town runs a stream, bordered closely on both sides by the homes and shops of the town.

We had considered eating dinner in St. Marie, but none of the three eateries we tried were ready to serve us at 5:15, so we got back on the road and returned to Strasbourg in just over an hour.

By 7, we were seated at Creperie la Bolee de Cidre on Rue du Fosse des Tanneurs, where we had crepes and galettes in this tiny establishment with seating for 20 (though there seemed to be seating downstairs, too, but we didn't get to see it).

It is such a privilege for me to have walked the streets that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather walked, and to get a firsthand feel for the beautiful countryside he and his family were forced to leave because of their faith--probably at a high price and with great sadness.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone